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Well-behaved stem-cell lines to emerge from unintended time-out?

In March 2009, the Obama Administration announced new guidelines for stem-cell funding, replacing what was widely considered a much more restrictive set of rules put in place by the Bush Administration. But there was a glitch (as reported here).

The requirements under the new system resulted in the deletion from the "approved" list of H9, by far the most often used cell line, as well as another popular line known as H7. Both H9 and H7 are owned by the WiCell Research Institute, an offshoot of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Fascinating, to me, is how beautifully this exemplifies the law of unintended consequences. Obviously, the last thing President Obama's bureaucrats would have wanted to do is slow down the research their boss pushed so hard for in the 2008 campaign. But one suspects that any abrupt perturbation of a complex system has the potential to produce unexpected and, possibly, unwanted results.

And guess what? The global reach of stem-cell research and the proliferation of paperwork propelled by bioethicists' ruminations make for a complex system. Among the stumbling blocks in this case: strict new rules concerning documentation of cell lines' provenance and donor consent, complicated by the fact that the original documents are written in Hebrew. A key scientist involved in the initial derivation of both H9 and H7, Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor, MD, DSc, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, has been hustling to cross the i's and dot the t's on the pile of required paperwork.

According to this Nature report, Itskovitz-Eldor has tied up the loose ends on his end and WiCell has completed its application for these lines and submitted it to the National Institutes of Health. So the delay may be resolved soon. Or not. After all, nobody saw this one coming, did they?

(Bold prediction: The just-passed health-care law will turn out to be filled with such surprises.)

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